Hosokawa’s cloud and light

Earlier this month I wrote a little post about the importance to me of Borders landscapes, particularly the massive skies we enjoy here.

I can enjoy them any time I walk out of the office. Cloudscapes are always the same, always new. The same textures and colours ever drifting into new formations, new tonalities, and new shades of white, grey, gold, amber and rose. They evoke the process of creative thought: nothing much is happening, there's a uniform blank of grey: then there's a bit more contrast in the light, a fissure emerges, suddenly cracking open to reveal pure white, or - even - a patch of blue.

I try to hold on to those skies when I get back in the office. A working space with a skylight would be ideal - not possible just now, but one day, I hope.

One thing that helps maintain that sense of openness, of space and light, is music. An advantage of having an office to myself is that I can play whatever I like, sometimes quite loudly. Ambient or classical works for me, but a couple of weeks ago I came across something particularly intriguing.

It's a collection called Landscapes, by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa. Hosokawa filters the language of western classical modernism through a Zen Buddhist sensibility, producing abstract, slow moving soundscapes that capture the sense of drifting clouds. Indeed one of the pieces, Cloud and Light, explicitly seeks to draw that comparison.

The pieces set a string orchestra in dialogue with a lovely ancient instrument I hadn't heard before, the shô. The liner notes are effusive:

The shô, an instrument imported into Japan from China in the eighth century, has a set of vibrating reeds that activate pipes stacked vertically in ranks, as in an organ but all so small that they can be fitted to a mouthpiece and blown with the player's breath. According to tradition its sound resembles the call of the phoenix, and physically it has something of the shape of a bird, with wings upraised. Perhaps it could be thought to fly easily between the real and the magical, between earth and heaven, by virtue of its high register and the glisten of upper harmonics, suggesting its sound is the faint shadow of a celestial light almost entirely beyond our hearing.

You wouldn't whistle Hosokawa's pieces on the way to the papershop, but they are really quite beautiful, bringing a some much needed serenity to the office. I highly recommend Landscapes if you like ambient, meditative music.

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